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Gennaro seeks school toxin scan

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The information came from a report published last Monday in the Daily News, which had done random tests at nine city schools and found elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the caulking around the doors and windows at six of them, one of which was PS 86 on Parsons Boulevard in Briarwood.PCBs are toxins linked to lower IQ scores, asthma and cancer, but were commonly used in window and door caulking and various commercially produced substances including plastics, adhesives and caulk from the 1940s through the 1970s until their use was outlawed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 1978. PS 86 was built in 1970."The city should start with a rigorous inspection of schools that may contain PCBs," Gennaro said as he stood in front of the elementary school Monday afternoon. "The first step, the most important step, is to marshal all our resources to investigate where there is cracking and peeling [caulk], which is where PCBs are being released into the air right now."According to EPA reports, PCBs can leach out of even intact, undisturbed caulk into the water supply or become airborne. However, the substance gained widespread usage thanks to its durability and stability.Intact caulk poses less of a threat than if the substance is peeling or flaky, but neither is safe, Gennaro said. The councilman chairs the City Council's Environmental Protection Committee.The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said that the risk to children from caulk in schools is fairly low compared to other ways they may come in contact with PCBs, such as in the food supply. Acceptable federal levels of PCBs in food, for instance, are two to three parts per million, and for materials in landfills the level is 50 parts per million, the DOH said.Nancy Clark, assistant commissioner of the Bureau of Environmental Disease Prevention at the DOH, stressed that the samples taken by the Daily News from schools were scraped from the exterior of the buildings, whereas the DOH did air and wipe tests of caulk inside the buildings and found amounts of the chemical that were below the limit of detection at all but one of the schools mentioned in the article. That school, PS 153 in the Bronx, was cleaned last weekend, DOH Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a letter to the Daily News."Even when they have a level that's slightly above [the federal level], it doesn't mean there's an elevated risk," she said.Regardless, Gennaro would like the city to create a policy to inspect and remove contaminated caulking."It's up to the Department of Education to commence a citywide inspection of all schools that may have PCBs," he said. "I was just on the phone with the [New York City] health commissioner, and his belief is if you have flaking caulk, that is dangerous. I don't think anybody's going to argue that if you have a known carcinogen, it's got to go," Gennaro said at the Monday press conference.Some 266 city schools were built or renovated during the 1960s and 1970s before the substance was outlawed, 39 of which are in Queens, according to the DOE.The School Construction Authority said in a statement that it "treats all caulk present in these buildings as if it contains PCBs. Therefore, testing of the caulk is unnecessary. During demolition and renovation projects caulking is appropriately disposed in accordance with all applicable regulations and laws."Clark said the level of concern over the news article was unwarranted, and that the risk in a school environment is low."The studies we have are related to people who had very high exposures in the workplace," she said. "It's really related to how people are exposed. The health effects are so limited if the air levels [of PCBs] are low and the dust levels are low."Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at achristodoulides@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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